Unlike many academic books this is an easy and enjoyable read. In social work, too often books focus on the individual practice, with little about the context in which we intervene. Ferguson et al emphasise the political role of social work and the need to fight for radical approaches in a time ripe for radical politics.
The analysis in the first part of the book of the economic and ideological politics of neoliberalism sets the scene for understanding social work in a wider context than British shores.
After the Scottish and Brexit referendums much talk has pointed to the “Scandi-model” and EU for positive change. A strong critique of the growing inequality in Sweden and the devastation in Greece through imposed austerity highlight social work’s fragile position, busting the myth of the EU as a progressive force.
Mistakenly, there can be an ethos that “proper social work is done in the voluntary sector” due to less bureaucracy and time constraints. This book always comes back to the relationship between the state and market, and the fight for increased public spending on services and greater control for clients.
The second part offers an interesting account of social work under fascism and colonial rule. Social work history is plagued with the suppression of peoples’ self-determination. Ferguson et al draw on these examples that highlight how social work has been used to reinforce political regimes.
From the segregation and extermination under Hitler to the assimilation policies of Denmark in the 1950s, social work has been used by the oppressor. With policies such as Prevent, the state can attempt to use public sector workers to reinforce divisions in society.
The book uses SWP founder Tony Cliff’s quote to describe this period as the “1930s in slow motion”. The implication is that we are not too far away from a situation where the horrors of history can return.
The final section — politics of social work today and conclusion — considers how we can prevent this.
Social workers need to be part of collective struggles inside and outside trade unions, combining political and workplace activity in order to develop stronger connections between people and movements, placing people before profit.
Political movements, such as the disability rights campaign, have shaped social work practice, and can do again. Global crises require global solutions. Emphasising the worker in social worker underpins this book’s ethos — international solidarity and action for social change.